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Editorial: Asheville water fight bears close watching

December 29, 2012
Hello Readers — I had to take a break from the blog after the election. Tim Moffitt is the very worst politics has to offer, and since I adore my county and my city, seeing him win reelection was really awful. It was a sad day for our county, but that’s life, and we carry on: In December, the community turned out to protest and bring attention to the water issue at the Republican dinner at the Grove Park Inn. It was a great opportunity for incoming governor, Pat McCrory, to learn about Moffitt’s weird plans. Click on the picture below for WLOS-TV’s coverage of the protest and McCrory interview:
The papers have printed many great letters and articles about the water issue. Most recently, this surprise editorial, “Asheville water fight bears close watching” turned up in the Greensboro News & Record.  Hooray!
Friday, December 28, 2012
Greensboro News & Record editorial page

Asheville is fighting to keep its municipal water system and avoid a soaking. But the state legislature has the last word.

Other cities should tune in to this drama playing out in the water-wealthy mountain community.

While Asheville operates its own water system, wastewater service is handled by a Metropolitan Sewerage District that covers all of Buncombe County. A legislative study committee reported last year that combining systems could achieve efficiencies, and a bill passed this summer would authorize a sewerage district to exercise “any power” of a city water system. The measure, pushed by Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Buncombe, and Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, was seen as a prelude to a merger. But some critics suspect the ultimate goal is to privatize water services in Asheville. Moffitt and McGrady deny it, but much of this story seems to lie beneath the surface.

The Asheville City Council is trying to block any action to remove the water system from city control. It put the question to city voters in a nonbinding referendum last month. Eighty-six percent said they wanted to keep the system. It passed its own resolution, unanimously, that warned: “The forced taking of … local government infrastructure sets a dangerous precedent in the state of North Carolina, a precedent that will have a chilling effect on any local government investing in needed infrastructure in the future.”

Asheville is currently spending $40 million for water system improvements and believes any compensation it receives if its system is folded into the Metropolitan Sewerage District won’t be adequate. A recent study commissioned by the city placed the value of its water system at $177 million and also said consolidation under MSD management would reduce costs for sewer customers by $18 million to $23 million over nine years but cost Asheville water customers $33 million more.

On the other hand, if Asheville managed the consolidated operation, the city report said, all users would save money. But that has not been an option discussed by legislators, who appear to be preparing for some action in 2013.

The state does have the power to force a regional approach to the provision of water and sewer services. And, with water resources becoming more scarce and environmental concerns putting greater focus on wastewater treatment processes, any means of achieving efficiencies must be considered.

But Asheville’s objections aren’t unreasonable. Like Greensboro, High Point and most other sizable cities in North Carolina, it has made huge investments in water collection, treatment and delivery. At the very least, its customers and taxpayers deserve fair compensation for what they’ve spent. They are the ones who stand to get a soaking.


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